Give me the flammable life
I’m cold as a match
Ready to strike
So here I go …
It started with a spark
And burned into the dark
So here I go …
Something From Nothing, Foo Fighters
It is 3:30 in the morning and I am awake.
It happens a lot these days.
These days that are so clearly a time of integration.
Of integrating light and dark.
What is that F. Scott Fitzgerald quote? I wonder to myself. (“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning …”)
And then the voice in my head came down on me hard: You have a sister, it said. A sister you do not know, a sister who your father abandoned when she was four. A daughter your father abandoned, before you. A different version of your story. A different girl he left to fend for herself. A blonde version of you …
I found a pen and some awful old notebook, and I started quickly to write to her.
Before, for the millionth time, I changed my mind.
It has been so much easier not to.
When I wrote the words, “I am your sister, Lara,” I burst into tears.
I finished the letter, rolled over, and sank deeply into sleep …
I dreamed I was driving a car at night down the coast.
Through a curved tunnel on Highway 1.
When the lights went out and my headlights began to dim.
Soon it was total blackness in that tunnel.
I felt panicked, but I kept driving, thinking I just needed to trust my intuition.
I am in the dark, driving based on intuition, I thought. And I’m not hitting anything – I’m not even scraping the sides of the tunnel.
And then I was through the tunnel.
But as soon as there was more light, my eyes grew heavy.
Too heavy to keep open.
I was driving in the fast lane, and I could not keep my eyes from closing.
Do I put on the brakes? I wondered. Is it safer to put the brakes on in the fast lane, or to drive blind?
In the morning, I awoke and put the letter to my sister in the mail before I could change my mind …
It was a year ago, and we sat outside at Peet’s.
“I just want you to know,” I said to my then-friend. “That when I look back on my life, you are the only man I have ever met who feels so much like me that I could be with him without feeling like I am settling in some way.”
The words hung between us for less than a second.
“I am totally in love with you,” he exploded. “I have been in love with you since the first moment I saw you. I never believed in love at first sight. But I felt it with you. And if I am finally ready to leave my wife when we’re 50 and you are no longer available, I don’t know what I will do.”
My hands started to tremble.
And a chill came into my heart.
This is what it is to be in shock, I thought.
And try as I might, I could not get warm.
I went immediately and sat at their cold granite countertop with a glass of red wine and told her the story.
Of how my then-friend – the married man – had uttered the words that had instantly created an “us.”
I held the wine in my hands and wore my big down coat zipped all the way up.
Her husband came home.
Why are you wearing your coat? he asked.
I’m cold, I said.
Take it off, he insisted. I don’t want you to wear a coat in our house; I am turning up the heater.
I did as he said.
But in the weeks that followed, I wore that coat all the time.
It protected me from my tender throat to my knees.
It was all I had to keep me warm.
The year passed in seismic waves.
The married man told me I was his destiny, but that he feared he lacked the strength to meet his destiny; I was left wondering, if that were true – if I were his destiny, was he not mine? And did his weakness mean I was destined to be alone?
I then discovered my first unavailable love blew his brains out.
And it seemed I could not leave my house without fear that someone would fall in my path and expect me to catch them (quite literally).
And there was beauty there.
Then the one person who helped me hold all my pieces together – my person – discovered a lump in her breast; the surgery, the chemo, it bonded us, the three of us: we – she, her husband, and I – are family now.
And then the year came to an end with me laying to rest another friend; my sweetheart who had not been so lucky.
And finding connection and healing …
The gift of a man who was becoming less of a stranger lay beside me in the dark.
I want you to let yourself go with me, he said.
I can’t, I told him. I’m afraid if I do, I will cry. It’s not safe for me to let anyone in too close. And it’s easier, that way, to say goodbye.
I WANT you to cry, he responded. Well, I want you to feel that you CAN cry with me. I will hold you for as long as it takes. I’m not just walking away from this …
My friend, her husband, and I celebrated the end of the motherfucking year.
I joined Pinterest for you, her husband told me.
Huh? I said.
I created a wall called “Lara’s Coat” and I’ve pinned a few things on it, but fuck if I can find it again. You don’t get to have any say in it; we are getting you a new coat.
(The idea of this man – this brother of my choosing – navigating Pinterest for me.
To find me a new coat.
To wrap me in love.
To keep me warm.
It is a both a gift and a gesture I will remember for the rest of my life.)
The three of us managed to stay up until midnight.
And then I hugged and kissed them both goodnight.
With New Year’s Day came the news: the closest thing I have to a mentor, my yoga teacher, had sold my studio and was moving on.
The news hit me hard, and left me feeling ungrounded and foolish for taking the loss so much to heart.
But in this year of extreme sadness and loss, this loss felt like too much loss to bear.
Another loss I did not see coming.
Another man leaving me to fend for myself …
It was hours before dawn.
But this time I was not alone.
Why are you awake? he asked as I crawled back under the body-warmed covers.
And then my becoming-less-of-a-stranger wrapped his arm around me as I curled up into him.
And in the dark with my face pressed to his skin, I started to cry.
It’s okay, he said gently. You can let yourself go.
He kissed the top of my head.
You feel everything, don’t you?
With that the floodgates opened.
It’s been too much, I sobbed. It’s all been much too much. Too much loss. Too much sadness. I am resilient. But it’s too much.
He wrapped his other arm around me and held me tight.
Until, cleansed, my body softened.
He engulfed me then.
And I fell back deeply into sleep.
In the throes of a vulnerability hangover from having shared my tears, I took myself to a movie.
I went to see Wild.
I had read the book; I knew the story.
Immediately I wondered what had I been thinking?
It was too much for me.
I was too raw.
The rancid sex, the needles in veins, the pain, the loss …
It all cut too close.
I am fucking OUT OF HERE! I thought.
And then my teacher’s voice came to me.
The yoga starts, he likes to say. It starts when you become so uncomfortable that you want out of the pose. The yoga doesn’t even start until then. The yoga is in learning in here – where there are no consequences – how to be uncomfortable. You learn how to be at ease in discomfort in here, so you know how to respond to the stressors of life out there.
So although my mind and body railed against sitting in that seat and watching that movie, I just let myself be.
I just breathed slowly, to assure my body that I was okay.
And in the darkness of that theatre I watched the story unfold, and quietly cried.
And took solace in the fact that, surrounded by strangers, I may have been the only one crying.
But I was not crying alone.
Today I went to the yoga class that has been my salvation.
I generally do not speak to anyone there but the teacher, and I only speak to him occasionally.
Today I went early and sat alone to sip a cup of tea before class – to be in this soon-to-be-lost moment as long as I could.
Alone with my tea, with my knees bent before me like a shield in front of my heart, a tiny, ethereally beautiful woman with long white hair came up to me and placed her hand rather shockingly on my knee.
Are you okay? she asked softly, her clear eyes looking deep into mine.
No, I said to this gentle stranger, and my tears began to flow. But how did you know? I asked.
She put her other hand on me and pressed her forehead between my knees.
I squeezed her shoulder.
This has been my sanctuary, I said, crying harder now, feeling the loss so deeply.
She kept her forehead on my knees and I instinctively began breathing to her rhythm.
After a while she looked up.
I know, she said. Yoga has been my salvation this year. Just keep moving forward. Toward the light.
Thank you, I said.
She left me then and joined the class.
My teacher came in and saw me alone on the bench.
And proceeded into the class without a word.
He came back out to close the door and looked at me, the only one still outside.
I almost could not bring myself to go in.
And then I mustered the strength.
Is it time? I asked.
It is, he said.
I patted his side with bravado as he held the door for me.
Okay, then, I said. Let’s do this …
For the entire 90 minute class I could do little more than press my face to the ground, let his voice wash over me, and cry.
So, he said. Buddha said, “In life there is suffering.” And everyone went, “Man, is this guy a bummer!” But what he meant was if you’re suffering? It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Suffering just is. It’s not because of you. You can’t control or change it. All you can control is your reaction to it. Whether you beat yourself up. Whether you lash out at others. You can’t control what happens. But you can control how you respond to whatever happens.
This reminded me of how I consciously choose to respond to myself.
And I remembered: Whatever I am feeling, I thought to myself, as I was losing it and crying over and over again on my mat. Whatever I am feeling, is okay.
After class I was back to my dry-eyed, strong, grounded self.
I found the lovely, tiny, clear-eyed woman and put my arms around her.
We hugged each other with our bodies pressed together.
We hugged far too long for strangers, but neither of us minded.
You feel better now, she observed.
I do, I said. Thank you.
And then it was time to say goodbye to my teacher.
He barricaded himself behind the desk while we talked of his plans.
I don’t know what I will do next, he said.
And his body language told me he too was feeling the impending loss and doing what he could to hold it together.
But when I put down my mat so I could hug him with both arms, he opened his to me.
Come here, baby girl, he said to me, using those words with me for the first time ever.
And it was – all of it, the lovely woman, crying on my mat, my teacher’s thinly veiled pain and gesture of compassion – just exactly what I needed.
It was a frigid day today.
So I went to my friends’ house on the way to the grocery store after yoga.
To pick up my new coat.
Jesus, I thought. Just in the nick of time.
Hey, guys, I said to my kids tonight. So tonight is the full moon. It’s the first full moon of the year. It’s the end of a cycle. A time to let things go and start the new year. So how about this? How about we write down all of things over the past year that we want to let go of. Things that have made us sad or angry or frustrated. And we go out under the light of the full moon and make a fire and let the fire burn those things away?
AWESOME!!! they said in unison.
After we were done burning down our sorrows, it was time for bed.
Mom, my little boy said. Let’s tell each other one thing that we think the other person is really good at.
This was a new one for us.
Okay, I said. I think you’re really good at feeling things deeply and noticing things about people.
Not just about people, he corrected me. I notice everything.
You’re right, I said. You do.
Well, he said to me. I think you’re really good at taking in good stuff and throwing away bad stuff.
He stopped me in my tracks with that one.
And I smiled.
Not just that, I thought. And at pulling all of it together to be able to see it all clearly.
Even, I thought. Even through the dark.
The 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of life.